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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  December 3, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm PST

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the conversation with aimee mann, coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: pleased to welcome aimee mann but to this program.
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the songwriter has just wrapped up a nationwide tour. her most recent project is called "charmer." she is about to enter her 20th year as a solo artist. >> if startles me. tavis: a lot to get to tonight. first, some of the very funny video for the song "labrador." >> i really did not want to do this video. i thought it was a stupid idea. the directors seemed so incompetent that i thought i was being framed. >> aimee had so many ideas. we were talking back and forth. it was so collaborative. >> the director basically tricked me into signing a contract that gave him a total control. he put something in front of me to sign. he said it was a birthday card for his nephew. >> it is my pleasure to present
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to you the new video of aimee mann's "labrador." take it away. >> ♪ and i run when it drops when we first met i was glad to be your pet like a lab it was about half the truth you got mad and you go crazy and i came back for more and you laugh in my face cause i'm a labrador and by one -- i run when the
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gun --♪ tavis: this intersection of your music and comedy started with? >> probably 10 years ago. there is a club in los angeles, called largo. me and my husband used to play there a lot. monday nights, the high comedy nights. we became friends with all these comedians. we started incorporating comedians into our thing. michael and i actually did a tour of where we had comedians as part of it. the idea started because there was one night where we played a show, and we were talking about the show later, and saying, i feel like a played a good show. every time i have to say something between songs, i feel so ton tug.
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i thought, like in baseball, where they have the pinch hitter, let us have an expert come in who is good at rendering. he can come in and do my banter, and then leave, and i will play the song. mr. to doing that, and it was just such a dumb idea. but it really made us laugh. we actually did a whole tour. who would have comedians doing our banter for us. tavis: how did the fan base react? >> i think they liked it. i think it had an interesting effect on people who, when they left. michael and i, our songs can be serious or depressing. when people laugh, their attention is almost more focused on the music. after laughing. i am not sure why that is. it was interesting. when it was a really nice
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experience. tavis: what you have against charmers? >> i actually love charming people. i am fascinated by them, because i think it is a skill that i do not have. i do not really know. i feel very awkward making conversation with people. i and the people who can stroll into a room and have anecdotes, and get the punch line in the right place, which i can never do. and make people feel at ease, and make people like them. that is a nice kill to have. i wrote this song about a friend of mine, who was charming in a nice way. as i started to think about the idea of charm and a charming people i have known, i realize that sometimes there is a darker side to that. maybe that side is people who
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used charm to run the plate you -- to manipulate you. sometimes, it is a cover-up for people who are really dependent on the approval of others. there is a kind of sadness underneath. i started thinking about this, and it became very fascinating to me. tavis: would you call this a concept project? i only ask this because there is more than this one song that speaks to this issue. is this a concept project? >> i do not think so. i have themes i think about. once a become interested in them, if i am writing a song, it will creek inn in little ways. it is not like a tree these -- treatise on charm and narcissism. i am interested in those things, so it is pervasive. tavis: i am always interested
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in the creative process and how it happens for each and every one of you. how would you best describe the way the creative process from project to project happens for you? >> from product to project, i do not know. you find yourself listening to certain kinds of music, or something gets your attention. a lot of times, from record to record, i find myself thinking, right now i feel like going in a direction almost opposite the direction i was just in. writing songs, it is usually a pretty similar process every time or write a song. i am fooling around with cords and melody. the suggests -- i feel like the music has within it its own emotional tone.
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from the tone and mood, i think, what story or character or vibe does this suggest to me? i extrapolate from there. if it feels like it is kind of sad, but kind of angry -- what is the story that tells the story? tavis: is that emotional tone -- i like that phrase. is that emotional tone connected or disconnected from what is happening in aimee mann's life at the time of the writing? >> it is usually pretty connected. i try to connect myself personally to every story. sometimes, i will write a song -- often, inspired by somebody i know, or a situation happening around me. i try to think -- i can only write from my own point of view, obviously. it is either my reaction to a
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situation, or a lot of times i like to put myself in their place, and right from their point of view, and just to see if i can either emphasize or tell a story. it is more interesting to me to tell a story in the first person than the third person, which seems to distant. tavis: have you always been open to that first-person voice, or is that something you had to get more comfortable with? >> i have probably always written a lot of songs in first person. sometimes, i right in second person. that feels a little more like it is personal, but a little more universal, or a way to ruminate about your own behavior with a little bit of distance. tavis: this project, to my ear, given your previous work, is a little bit, production us wise,
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a little different than your friends have been used to. yes or no? >> i was trying for that. i was inspired by a lot of pop music from the 70's, and also just thinking about my love for pop music and what that means to me. not the pop music of today. that is really heavy on production in a different way. but early 70's or pre-disco. i started to think, what about all that great stuff in the early 1980's, like blondie or the cars? i started looking at pure pop productions and taking elements from them. a lot of that was, when i was a kid, first hearing and synthesizers and used in pop music. it sounded so different. tavis: and when you say pure
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pop, but that you mean what? >> radio hits from the 1970's. tavis: you have been honest about what you were hearing and what you wanted to bring back to this project. it raises the question of whether you think musical taste is cyclical, or 1 cent era is gone, is that musical era gone? >> i think it is like waves on the beach. it is cyclical. the waves will keep coming back. but a lot of sand gets eroded as it happens. there are cycles. but there are going to be things that do eventually die off forever, which is too bad. then again, you cannot spend that much time trying to vainly keep something alive. maybe it is time to let it go. tavis: i ask this because of
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the way you produce this particular record, and what you drew on. the second reason is, it might help me understand how an artist like you goes about navigating their career forward, knowing that what may work today does not work when you put a record out who two years or three years from now. >> they do and they do not. my audience, probably -- it is not like i am planning to 20 year olds. my audience is pretty consistent. it moves along with me. you can only go with what you are interested in. you can try to make an effort to listen to music. sometimes, being influenced and staying excited means going back and listening to older stuff you
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missed the first time around. a lot of it is random. you cannot worry about whether people are going to like it or not, because you never know. you literally never know. i feel like there is pressure on people. you have to change. get on with this hipster trend. but honestly, who wants that? nobody wants somebody who is jumping on another trend. people like -- i think people respond to anyone who is being authentic. regardless of the production influences or the songwriting style influences, whatever it is. tavis: you have opened up a nice store that i want to go into now. how much of you making the decision, but in the day, to go
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the independent route -- how much of that aided and abetted the believe you expressed? >> it is huge. you do not have to expand in the energy -- expend any energy on trying to here with someone else's years. that is the worst feeling. it is corrosive and in cities to be writing a song, and half with through -- maybe you are excited about the song. maybe it is meaningful to you. halfway through, you go, they are not going to like it. it is deflating. it is really hard to not be affected by it. i like to feel i am a person who says, i do not care what other people think. i think the act of being a musician is so much about being
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open and empathetic, and not having these boundaries. you cannot control some of the negative stuff that comes in. i feel like i should not have been affected by that, but i admit that i was, and i have them, in other ways. i have been. it is a terrible feeling to go, i thought this was pretty good, but it is not going to be good in the right way. maybe good is just not interesting. tavis: i hear that wrestling, and yet i am trying to figure out, for you, and even for myself -- everyone of us is an artist in our own right in something. you have to figure out where that line is. on the one hand, you cannot totally not care. you cannot be devoid of that concern. and yet there is a line at which you have to say, ok.
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i am not going path this. i have to do what i think is an authentic for me. where do you figure out where that line is? >> it is hard. what i usually try to do is tell myself, look. you are just writing a song for you. you do not have to play it for anybody when it is done. maybe this is a song you do not play for anybody. i think that helps keep that negative voice at bay, or that speculation at bay. it is not always that easy. tavis: earlier, you reference your audience. in all the years i have been doing this, i have heard artists made reference to their audience. i have never asked this question. you are the first person. which is, how the you know what your audience is? i ask that because the industry is so not like what it used to be, back in the day. the way we distribute music in
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dispense music is so different than it was, back in the day. how do you know what your audience is these days? >> honestly, i think i am just guessing. even playing a show -- i play a show. i can see the first couple of rows. you know. also, it is from venue to venue, a town to town. it really is different. i kind of have no idea. [laughter] tavis: took a while to get there. now we have finally arrived. you have no clue. >> i have no concrete -- it is based on a lot of murky assumptions. tavis: that is not the worst thing. i can see the good in that. i can see the good in not knowing who your audience is. if you do not know who the audience is, you do not have to respond to a certain level of expectation.
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>> that is right. absolutely. the people i do meet, people who are waiting for me after the show -- maybe that is not the best cross-section. maybe the people who really want to meet you -- i do not know. it is hard to say. tavis: now that you have been doing this for 20 years, what you personally still get out of all the digging>> for more information on -- out of all the gigging? at first, it was really hard. i felt super uncomfortable. i felt a lot of pressure on me. there was a lot of pressure on me to become a bigger performer. the first tour that "till tuesday" did was opening for hall and oates, and they were pulling arenas.
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i still cannot believe this was a thing that happened. in front of 10,000 people, going, i have no idea how to rise to this occasion. and honestly, he is because it was not -- it is not appropriate for me. not every performer is meant to play in front of 10,000 people. i like a smaller audience. i like a show where there are moments during the show where i can play my guitar and sang a couple of songs by myself. people were going, mr. gestures really big. what is that? and that is crazy. i do not know what that is. do some dance moves? look at me. i am not dancey. i felt like an impostor, trying
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to be in this pop group. when you are 24, this is a band, i feel like doing now, for a couple of years. suddenly, i am in this situation. i do not know how to drive his car. tavis: i would have loved to have hung out with hall and oates. i love those guys. >> the shows were so great. i think the songs are great. tavis: most soulful white man who has ever lived. i love both of them, but daryl's voice. but figuring out the big, massive arenas -- that was not your thing. you could not do the big gestures. you scale down to where you are comfortable, and become a solo artist, but you are still out there. it is on you. >> but i always have a band. i kind of realized, as time went
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on, that you can choose your band members, who are not only great musicians, but good friends. that is sort of where i have come to. the guy who produced this record, the bass player of my band, and the musical director -- we have worked together probably over 10 years. we have just become really good friends. there is something about working with him that has really radically changed my relationship to performing. he has such a relationship -- almost a spiritual relationship with music. is not happening, you cannot do it. i have come to trust his opinions of where to go. i feel a real kinship. if i start to feel anxious or worried, and make a mistake --
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to look over at somebody who is a friend, who is solid and supporting you in this musical way, has really made a huge difference. and it has really allowed me to feel much more comfortable performing. i really enjoy it now. but a lot of it is about creating a shared -- you know, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, to feel like i am part of a band, and part of a group of people who are all willing to kind of -- i am the front man, but there is an aspect of, we are all setting aside our own egos about shining, to create a shared experience where we are all pulling together. that is really a magical thing.
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tavis: it is a good place to get to. since i mentioned it earlier, and you agreed, this project is a little different than fans might be used to. now you cover of this tour, how did it go? how did they receive it? >> it was great. i have a great time. the audiences were fantastic. i have a full band that i am taking out. the last few years, i have been doing my acoustic thing. i really had a blast. i feel like people really like it. we had some really amazing shows. tavis: you do not care what they think when you are writing it, but when they like it, it feels good. >> yazov. -- yeah. it is mostly because you connect with people. that is the joy and the magic. tavis: the new product is called
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"charmer,." good to see you again. >> always a pleasure. thank you so much. tavis: see you next time. until then, as always, keep the faith. ♪ ♪ >> ♪ go ahead and say your done with it it's cool baby, you can go whatever way you choose you ought to kill the whole new realize the one is you good enough you'll be free ♪u don't know enough
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>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with a noted scholar and best-selling author of "the black swan." that is the next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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>> be more. pbs.
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captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> ifill: house republican leaders offered their own proposal today to avert the prospect of a year-end tax hike. good evening. i'm gwen ifill. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. on the newshour tonight, we get perspective on the partisan tug- of-war in washington, from one half of the team that produced
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